Writing Business Letters
Letter writing is certainly a lost art. If you are like me, the only personal letters that you ever see anymore are written by lawyers. Today we talk on the telephone, conduct teleconferences and we use email, but even in this electronic age, the business letter still has advantages over other forms of communications. The individual who receives your letter can refer to it over and over again. He can pass it on to others, jot notes on it and put it in his briefcase to take home at night. Unlike an email, a well-crafted letter can have its own personality, created not only by the language but also by the quality of the letterhead, the neatness of the printing. In short, if you have the ability to write a good letter, you have something valuable– a fast and inexpensive way to communicate with somebody you think is important.
Even though a good personal letter is a powerful communication tool, it is relatively easy to create if you follow a few simple guidelines.
I’ll break these guidelines into two groups: formatting and writing.
Make sure that you spell correctly the name of the person you is getting the letter as well as the address and the name of the company. Nothing can torpedo a letter faster than a misspelled name (or any other misspelling for that matter).
Consider the salutation. Even though I don’t always do it myself I am forced to admit that it is better to err on the side of formality when you are sending a letter to someone you don’t know. If John Jacobson is the product manager of a division who may be interested in a component that you manufacture, you are better off addressing him as Mr. Jacobson or John Jacobson than as John.
Use a “Re”. A “Re” line, located after salutation can add to clarity by pinpointing exactly what the letter is about Examples: Sales Position, New Product Launch Idea, Closing of 123 South Street. A “Re” line leaves no doubt as to what your letter is about.
Begin strongly to tell your reader immediately what the letter is about. Avoid “small talk” in your letter and get right down to business. There is nothing you can do that will be more appreciated by the reader than making your purpose crystal clear. The tone of your letter should be personal as opposed to formal. It’s okay to let your personality show through as long as it doesn’t keep the letter from being as clear and concise as possible.
After you tell the reader your purpose, state your case as quickly and clearly as possible.
When you have done that , stop and write your closing. You can simply use “sincerely” or “very truly yours” or just “regards” and sign you name.
If you want your letter to lead to action, your last paragraph before the closing should make that clear. Make your request as specific as possible. “Please let us know if our proposal is acceptable by September 1, so we can begin ordering materials.” “Are you free for lunch on Septemer 21, I’ll call later this week to confirm.”
This discussion is general and most letters you write will be specific. You may need a good letter to say no to somebody who makes you an offer. So you want to be definite but not insulting. A good letter comes in handy when you hare trying to collect money. In this case you have to be firm but not threatening.
Because there are so many different kinds of letters I will choose one: the sales letter. If you are interested in others, let me know and I’ll try to provide specific discussion.
Tips on Writing a Good Sales Letter
Target your audience. A sales letter is a direct sales pitch asking for the order. If you are sending the letter to the wrong audience, you are wasting your money. Know as much as you can about the prospect before sitting down to write.
Emphasize the biggest benefit. Think hard about the benefits of your product to your audience and present benefits in their order of priority.
Make the Offer as Appealing as Possible. Every sales letter needs an offer. “For this month pay NO SHIPPING CHARGE on any order over $50” “We’ll send you a FREE CD for every 5 that you buy”.
Start selling immediately. Don’t waste time. Start immediately. Open your letter with an idea that engages the reader. “How would you like a coaching session with Tiger Woods himself?”
Write Longer Letters. Believe it or not longer letters sell much better than shorter ones. Think of all the direct mail letters you receive. Most of them are 3 – 4 pages long. What’s the reason? You are asking the reader for something and a long letter justifies your request provided that it is interesting and offers lots of facts. A long well written letter is more convincing because it presents reasons to buy. Of course, the writer needs to help the reader get through all those pages by creating an easy-to-read, attractive layout, featuring short paragraphs and lots of revealing sub-headlines. Next time you get a solicitation letter, take a minute to study the approach. Direct mail copywriters are some of the most skilled and highest paid writers in the world. Study what they do and learn from them.
More examples: if you are interested in other kinds of letters, email me and let me know.
Models of Good and Terrible Letters.
If you have examples of business letters that you think are great, or terrible. Send them in and Ill post them for all to see. I know that there are books you can buy that have “model” letters for every occasion. I don’t think this works. A good part of the power of the letter is the personality of the writer and this is difficult to communicate when you are using an off- the- shelf model. It is helpful to look at the letters that others have sent so you can improve your own.